From education to employment

Exclusive to FE News: Liz Smith, director of unionlearn, writes her December column

The end of the year is generally a time to wind down and gather energy for the year ahead. But at unionlearn we have had a busy month. We hosted Bill Rammell MP, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, at our conference encouraging union learners to aim at higher education. And tomorrow we have invited the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, John Denham MP. In the Midlands international best-selling author Sue Townsend addressed a unionlearn conference together with Gillian Merron MP, Minister for the East Midlands. And at Stansted Airport, learning really took off when unionlearn, Urban Futures, and BAA Stansted worked in partnership to get the Stansted Airport Employment and Skills Academy off the ground. This impressive list reflects the importance with which our partners regard the huge task of increasing skills levels throughout the country. It also shows how that more employers are getting on the skills bandwagon.

Unionlearn and unions are growing in confidence with every learner who signs up and every employer that commits to learning in the workplace. Although we are primarily known for our expertise in Skills for Life and basic skills, we are also playing an increasing role in encouraging people to reach out for more and embark on higher education courses. It is clear from research I spoke about last month, that there is a real hunger among union members to progress and take on higher level courses and degrees. You only have to go to a learning centre to see the excitement of people who left school, often at 15, with inadequate education, feeling that it “wasn”t for them” ““ a phrase I have heard all too often. The world has changed so much since then because of the impact of technology and many people have felt left behind ““ until now.

The pride of Ayub Patel, a ULR at Unichem in Preston was clear when he told me that he could now “push his daughters off the computer” because he had completed an IT course and could show them a thing or two! At the opening of a learning centre in the First Bus garage at Alperton last Friday, manager Jim Brady was warmly thanked by the ULR team for all his support in getting the centre opened. At a garage where many languages are spoken, many cultures are mixing together, and there are a variety of shift patterns ““ it is learning that cements relationships and allows real progression in communities and workplaces. At unionlearn we are conscious of the fact that not only are we a force in education, but that through education we can aid community cohesion. Our Southern and Eastern Region unionlearn (SERTUC) has just produced a booklet entitled Defeating Racism, aimed at tackling racism in all its many forms in the workplace. Many refugees, migrant workers and members of settled communities are getting onboard with union learning, strengthening workplaces and society.

Liz Smith, Director, unionlearn

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